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WASHINGTON -- Requiring lawmakers to stay in town until they have passed a federal budget might help motivate them to get the job done, former Senate Budget Committee Director William Hoagland said Wednesday.

"Incentives are important for Congress to do its work," Hoagland told the Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform.

Another option Hoagland mentioned: withholding congressional pay until budget impasses are resolved. Critics say the move might be unconstitutional, he added.

Hoagland, currently senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, recommended switching from annual budgets to a biennial budget process.

Ultimately, it will take more than a few tweaks to solve the budgetary problems facing Washington, he said.

But he encouraged committee members to come up with some proposals that both parties can embrace.

"Failing to reach some consensus would once again telegraph to the American public that the Congress was not willing to address its most obvious, fundamental ... responsibility and the result would be a further erosion of the confidence in this critical institution," he said. "If this committee could reach agreement ... even on limited changes to the process, it could set the stage for even more fundamental comprehensive changes in the next Congress."

Emily Holubowich, executive director of the Coalition for Health Funding, warned that Congress' erratic budgeting decisions are undermining important programs.

Entities that receive discretionary federal funding "rely on predictable, stable funding to pursue their missions of protecting and promoting Americans' health. When the federal budget process breaks down, dysfunction disrupts their operations. New initiatives and new hires are put on hold, procurement cycles lapse, opportunities are lost and the American people are ultimately hurt," she said.

She called on Congress to create new budgetary norms and "break bad habits."

"None of us are naive enough to believe we can perfect the process or that changes can work without the political will to make them work. But even marginal improvements that bring about greater predictability and stability would be welcomed by the communities we represent," she said.

The Joint Select Committee on Budget and Appropriations Process Reform was mandated by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 and is scheduled to recommend changes later this year.

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Rogers, is the committee's co-chairman.

In an interview, Womack said people are "talking a lot about carrots and sticks. You know, 'How do you motivate Congress to actually do its work?'"

"No budget, no pay; no budget, no recess. Those kinds of things have merit," he said.

Womack, who also serves as House Budget Committee chairman, said he hopes the joint committee will recommend changes so that the budget process serves Americans "in a much more efficient way."

"Are we going to take government shutdowns and brinkmanship and cliff dwelling all off the table? We'd like to. I think we're going to take a major step in that direction," he added.

A Section on 05/10/2018

Print Headline: Panel wants to motivate Congress

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